Grades 5-9, Family Theater (60 minutes), April 2, 2019

Called “the world’s reigning male chorus” by the New Yorker, the San Francisco based Grammy® award-winning ensemble Chanticleer is known for its seamless blend of twelve male voices ranging from soprano to bass. Known as “an orchestra of voices,” the group excels in original interpretations of vocal literature, from Renaissance to jazz and popular genres, and a strong commitment to contemporary compositions. The winner of the 2010 Chorus America Education Outreach Award, Chanticleer’s education programs engage over 5,000 young people annually. At the Kennedy Center, students have the opportunity to engage with the group through a lecture concert.

Standards Connections:
Music - Connecting (Cn.11)

Student Guide

So, What’s Going On?

They take the stage, their voices filling the auditorium with vocal sounds as rich as a symphony. But unlike a symphony, there are no instruments with them on stage…except their voices, of course. Meet Chanticleer—12 men whose choral strains have filled concert halls for 37 years, known worldwide as “an orchestra of voices.”

Chanticleer (pronounced SHAN-teh-kleer) is a choral chamber ensemble that performs almost entirely a cappella (solo or group singing with no instrumental accompaniment). For nearly four decades, the group has performed all kinds of music from early Renaissance to jazz, gospel, and modern compositions in concert halls across the globe. Its name originated from the rooster in The Nun’s Priest’s Tale in Geoffrey Chaucer’s medieval collection The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer had borrowed this character from the ancient French tale Renard the Fox. The word “chanticleer” comes from the French chanter—“to sing” and clair—“clear.”

One of the group’s goals is to encourage worldwide appreciation for the art of ensemble singing. The performers showcase their flexibility by performing not just the expected range of classical works, but music as varied as the group’s members. Watch Chanticleer perform Freddie Mercury’s “Somebody to Love” (yep, the Queen song):

Wait! What’s a Chamber Ensemble?

Chamber music might make you think of a small group of instruments, like a string quartet or woodwind quintet. In classical chamber music, each instrument typically carries a musical part on its own, unlike an orchestra where multiple instruments play a part. And like instrumental music, in a choral chamber group, the singers typically sing an individual part, as opposed to a choir, where multiple voices per part are present. Chanticleer has only 12 members, but they blend their voices into one sound, even as they sing different parts.

Speaking of parts, Chanticleer's voices from lowest to highest are:

  • contrabass: the deepest, or lowest, male voice, an octave below a typical bass
  • bass: a low male voice, singing the lowest notes in the vocal range of most males
  • baritone: a medium-low male voice singing in the range between tenor and bass
  • tenor: a high male voice, singing in the range between countertenor and baritone
  • countertenor: the highest male singing voice, equivalent to a female contralto or mezzo-soprano
    • alto: typically a female voicing, male altos sing higher than tenors and lower than sopranos
    • soprano: the highest female voicing, achieved by some male countertenors through the use of falsetto (a method of voice production used by male singers, especially tenors, to sing notes higher than their normal range)

Who’s Who


Chanticleer was founded in San Francisco, California, in 1978 when music student Louis Botto invited nine men to sing around his dining room table. He thought it was strange that the vocal music of the medieval and Renaissance periods wasn’t being performed and founded a group to remedy that. One of the founding baritones, Charlie Erikson, was reading Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales at the time and suggested they name the group Chanticleer after the name of the "clear-singing" rooster.

One of Botto’s goals was to provide full-time, salaried employment for its members, a challenging goal the group finally achieved in 1991. The group had gained notoriety by touring the country in a van, and eventually earned international recognition in Europe. Over time, they were able to release an album that included many original compositions written specifically for the group.

Currently, the group consists of 12 men, including two basses, one baritone, three tenors, and six countertenors.

Andy Berry, bass
Zachary Burgess, bass-baritone
Brian Hinman, tenor
Matthew Knickman, baritone
Matthew Mazzola, tenor
Cortez Mitchell, countertenor
Gerrod Pagenkopf, countertenor and Assistant Music Director
Kory Reid, countertenor
Alan Reinhardt, countertenor
Logan S. Shields, countertenor (soprano)
Andrew Val Allsburg, tenor
Adam Ward, alto

Chanticleer has been led by Music Director William Fred Scott since 2015, following decades of successful years conducting and directing various opera houses, symphonies, and choral schools.


Caption: Musical Director, William Fred Scott

Check This Out…

During the performance and demonstration, Chanticleer will perform a varied repertoire stretching from early Renaissance music to arrangements of jazz and spirituals. The performance list includes:

“Gaude gloriosa” by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (jaw-VAH-nee pyer-loo-EE-jee dah pal-uh-STREE-nuh) (c. 1525–1594) is a motet (pronounced MOH-tet; a sacred choral composition) honoring The Virgin Mary.

  • Read this translation of the Latin lyrics of the motet. Notice how the words profess adoration for Mary.

    Gaude gloriosa,

    super omnes speciosa,
    surpassing all others in beauty,

    Vale, valde decora,
    Fare you well, fair Lady,

    et pro nobis semper Christum exora.
    and intercede for us to Christ.
  • Palestrina was known for his perfection of counterpoint, a musical technique where different melodic lines are combined to create harmony using strict rules. Listen for the intricate way the voices simultaneously sing individual melodies and interact with one another to form harmonies.
  • Get a glimpse into the life of Chanticleer while listening to Gaude gloriosa:

"Duo Serarphim” is a motet written by Jacob Händl (1550–1591), a Slovenian composer and monk who was also known as Jacobus Gallus. He wrote both sacred and secular works including musical settings of the mass, passions, and motets. (The Catholic mass was often set by composers into major compositions with sections like the Kyrie and the Gloria.)

  • Read the translation of the Latin lyrics of the motet.

    Duo seraphim clamabant alter ad alterum:

    Two seraphim cried to one another,

    Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth.

    Holy is the Lord God of Sabbath.

    Plena est omnis terra gloria ejus.

    The whole earth is full of His glory.
  • “Duo Seraphim” is a polychoral piece, meaning it utilizes two different choruses that alternate singing. This type of composition is a hallmark of the Venetian school in the late Renaissance period. See if you can hear where the two choruses answer one another throughout the music.
  • Händl (pronounced HAHN-del) was criticized in his time for music that was too complex, both for their large number of voice parts (some of his pieces included up to 24 individual parts), and for the intricate counterpoint of his music. Hear "Duo Seraphim":

“Nude Descending a Staircase” by Allen Shearer (b. 1943) utilizes a poem by X.J. Kennedy and is based on a painting by Marcel Duchamp (DOO-shawn; 1887–1968). About the song, Shearer writes, “Because I am a singer myself, writing vocal music is a particular pleasure for me. Setting this whimsical poem provides a diversion.”

  • Nude Descending a Staircase, No.2 (1912) is a Modernist painting that depicts an abstract human figure walking down a flight of stairs. The original reception of the painting was not favorable, and it was largely regarded with jokes and ridicule. View the painting:

    Image Source

    Now listen to this description of the painting:

  • If the painting represents overlapped images of a person walking down steps, how does the musical interpretation do the same? Listen for complex rhythms, humorous asides, and thick musical texture (there's a lot going on at once here!). Hear Chanticleer sing "Nude Descending a Staircase":

DID YOU KNOW…Some info on Cubism and Futurism

In Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, Shearer combined Cubist and Futurist artistic styles. Cubism was an early 20th-century art movement using geometric shapes and interlocking planes. Futurism was an early 20th-century Italian art movement emphasizing speed, technology, industrial objects, youth, and velocity. Both art movements extended their influences to the period’s music, dance, literature, and film.

Quatre petites prières de Saint François d'Assise (Four small prayers of Saint Francis of Assisi) by Francis Poulenc (1899–1963) is a group of four motets based on the prayers of Saint Francis of Assisi, a Catholic friar who is considered the patron saint of animals.


Image Source

  • The piece was written by Poulenc (poo-LINGK) in 1948 for an a cappella men’s chorus and premiered by Franciscan monks. It alternates moments of chant, similar to Gregorian chant (a single melody of unaccompanied singing as a form of prayer), with more complex harmonies. Poulenc’s harmonic passages uses homophony—a musical texture where a strong melody is supported by harmonies.
  • Hear Chanticleer perform the piece:

“Fröhlich im Maien” from Drei Männerchöre, Op. 45 by Richard Strauss (REE-card strauss) was written for a male singing-society in Germany in the 1930s. Best known for his operas, tone poems (orchestral music that illustrates the text of a poem) and Lieder (poetry set to polyphonic music with several simultaneous melodies), Strauss (1864–1949) wrote several little-known works for such singing societies. This piece is set to the text of Friedrich Rückert (FREED-rik REUK-ehrt; 1788–1866), a German Romantic poet.

  • “Fröhlich im Maien” (“Joyous in May”) is the third männerchöre (or men’s chorus) in Drei Männerchöre, a song that encourages everyone to dance joyously in May. Listen for surprising harmonies, a hallmark of Romantic music.
  • The piece alternates verses with a chorus. See if you can follow along with the sheet music in this video as Chanticleer performs the piece:

“Dúlamán” arranged by Michael McGlynn (b. 1964) is set to a traditional Irish folk text. McGlynn uses classical and medieval music as inspiration and is best known for founding the vocal ensemble Anúna (Ah-NOO-nah).

  • The text of “Dúlamán” (DOO-lah-mahn) tells of a marriage involving the king of seaweed and was traditionally sung by people gathering seaweed from the unfertile coast of Ireland. The seaweed was laid on the land, and the land was eventually used for planting crops.
  • McGlynn’s musical setting combines traditional Irish folk music with his own musical ideas. Listen especially for the song’s alternating rhythms. Watch “Dúlamán” performed by McGlynn’s musical group Anúna:

“Creole Love Call” is frequently attributed to Duke Ellington (1899–1974), an American jazz composer and pianist who made the song famous. It was actually written, however, years before Ellington first performed it and given to him by saxophonist Rudy Jackson, who claimed it was his own composition. After Ellington performed it with jazz singer Adelaide Hall in 1927, both musicians skyrocketed to international fame. Ellington was granted publishing rights in 1928, but jazz musician Joe “King” Oliver quickly sued Ellington for plagiarism after noting that the song was eerily similar to “Camp Meeting Blues,” which Oliver had first recorded in 1923. Even though Oliver lost the suit over a paperwork error, Rudy Jackson was fired.

  • This arrangement of “Creole Love Call” was performed by the pre-World War II German jazz-influenced vocal ensemble the Comedian Harmonists, led by an unemployed actor named Harry Frommerman, who wrote the arrangement. This group of five male singers and a pianist was known for the ability to blend their voices. Listen to see if the members of Chanticleer are able to do the same.
  • The arrangement treats all of the voices as if they are instruments. Try to pick out what the individual instruments might be. (Hint! Think big band instruments like trumpet, trombone, clarinet, piano, and even a Hawaiian ukulele!)

“I Want to Die Easy” is a traditional spiritual arranged by Alice Parker and Robert Shaw with a beautiful solo tenor melody, full harmonies, and counterpoint between voices. The text describes the thoughts of a slave who has toiled in the fields and is ready to see heaven. Read the moving words:

I want to die easy when I die
Shout salvation as I fly
I want to die easy when I die.

I want to see my Jesus when I die
Shout salvation as I fly
I want to see my Jesus when I die.

I want to go to heaven when I die
Shout salvation as I fly
I want go to heaven when I die.

  • Listen for the slow, easy tempo; the emotion the tenor’s melody conveys; and the swing rhythm (a rhythm that, instead of using “straight” eighth notes counted one-and-two-and, etc., uses a triplet subdivision). It’s hard to explain but easy to feel in the music. Watch for a few quick examples of straight v. swing rhythm:
  • Hear Chanticleer perform “I Want to Die Easy”:

“Straight Street” is a traditional gospel song arranged by Joseph Jennings and has become one of Chanticleer’s most-often performed pieces. The song was originally written by J.W. Alexander and Jesse Whitaker from the traveling gospel ensemble the Pilgrim Travelers, whose energy and percussive foot tapping was legendary. Music from the Pilgrim Travels influenced singers like Ray Charles and Lou Rawls.

  • Introduced to the group by its arranger in 1980s, “Straight Street” was debuted by Chanticleer just as they began to explore repertoire outside of their traditional early music sets. Listen for the differences in vocal techniques used by the group in this song as compared to when they sing Renaissance music.
  • Follow the words as you watch Chanticleer perform “Straight Street”:

Well, I used to live up on Broadway
Right next to the liar’s house
My number was self-righteousness
Had very little guide of mouth
So I moved, I had to move
And I’m living on Straight Street now.

One day my heart got troubled
All about my dwelling place
I saw the Lord ‘round my settlement
And He told me to leave that place
So I moved, I had to move
And I’m living on Straight Street now.

Oh since I moved, I’m really living
I got peace within.
I thank the Lord for ev’ry blessing
I’m glad I found new friends.

Before I moved over here
Let me tell you how it was with me
Old Satan had me bound up
And I had no liberty
So I moved, I had to move
And I’m living on Straight Street now.

Think About This…

  • One unique feature of Chanticleer is the mix of voices, from soprano down to contrabass. How do the voices intermingle to create one sound? When a soloist takes center stage, how do the other voices blend to support him?
  • How is music influenced by art, and vice versa? Think of Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2. How does the musical interpretation of the poem and the painting expand your understanding of its meaning? What other examples can you think of to exemplify music and art working together?
  • How do you compare Chanticleer’s group performances with the type of music you usually hear performed—from classical to popular? You may not listen to a lot of early music or even jazz and spirituals, but are there aspects of Chanticleer’s performance that seem familiar? What sets Chanticleer apart from other live music you’ve experienced?

Take Action: Transforming Art

Many of the pieces Chanticleer performs are music set to art or poetry. “Fröhlich im Maien” is music set to a poem, while “Nude Descending a Staircase” represents music set to both a poem and visual art. Throughout history, composers and performers have been inspired by existing art, transforming that inspiration into song.

Think of a piece of art (poetry, painting, sculpture, dance, etc.) that inspires you. Choose a way to use that inspiration to create your own piece of art—whether that’s composing a song to represent a poem, or creating a dance to accompany an existing piece of music. Consider the elements of the art you're representing, and how they'll come through in your new creation. Share your innovation (and the artwork you transformed!) with a friend or trusted adult.

Teacher & Parent Guide


Credit: Photo by Lisa Kohler

Parents and Teachers: We’ve Got You Covered

Hey there adults. Whether you have season tickets to the symphony or are totally new to this classical music thing, we’ll catch you up.

Chanticleer is a group of 12 men that sing in a chamber group. The ensemble sings mainly with just their voices, a style of singing called a cappella. Chanticleer sings a variety of music from traditional Renaissance early music to jazz and spirituals. The group performs across the globe and works on educational initiatives that touch the lives of 5,000 young people every year.

Here are a couple of links to get you started:

Sample Chanticleer’s music on Spotify.

Learn the basics of Renaissance music, Chanticleer’s trademark genre.

Alright, you’re ready to hear Chanticleer.



Tori Friedrich

Editors & Producers

Lisa Resnick
Content Editor

Tiffany Bryant
Assistant Manager, Audience Enrichment

Kenny Neal
Manager, Digital Education Resources


David M. Rubenstein

Deborah F. Rutter

Mario R. Rossero
Senior Vice President

Gianandrea Noseda
Music Director
National Symphony Orchestra

The Fortas Chamber Music Concerts are supported by generous contributors to the Abe Fortas Memorial Fund, and by a major gift to the fund from the late Carolyn E. Agger, widow of Abe Fortas.

Major support for educational programs at the Kennedy Center is provided by David M. Rubenstein through the Rubenstein Arts Access Program.

Kennedy Center education and related artistic programming is made possible through the generosity of the National Committee for the Performing Arts.

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